- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Just 350 yards separated Jon Gruden from proving a point to his younger brother, Jay, and as he made the turn down Old Saybrook Avenue, his feet pounding the pavement and sweat ringing the collar of his shirt, he began thinking of the most boastful, cavalier and, perhaps, crude way to turn back and deliver an I-told-you-so.

Jon was a workout warrior, a ham-and-egger, a driven athlete who tied tires to trees in the backyard of his family’s home for target practice and, when that got mundane, would grab a sack of footballs, throw them alone on a field, wrangle them up and throw them back. He was committed to giving himself every advantage possible; a backup quarterback at Dayton, Jon took nearly everything personally, which is why, in his mind, nothing was ever done without purpose.

Jay was different. He had more innate talent than his older brother, which allowed him to take the path of least resistance — and often without repercussions. Tall and gangly as a kid, his teenage years showed mercy upon him in the way they can wreak havoc on others, gracing him with strength and stamina.

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One day in the summer of 1983, Jon finally snapped. At his parents’ home in Tampa, Florida, after completing his freshman year in college, he returned from a workout to find Jay, three and a half years younger, sitting on the couch in the living room and mindlessly staring at the television screen. Part of Jon’s routine was running a lap around the neighborhood — 1.2 miles, a distance measured in those days by the odometer, not an app — and he challenged Jay to a race.

“I wanted to bury him,” Jon recalls.

Gruden was an offensive assistant with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2002-2008) under brother Jon (left). (ANDREW HARNIK/The Washington Times)
Gruden was an offensive assistant with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2002-2008) under ... more >

Off they went, counter-clockwise around the Carrollwood streets named for legendary golfers — Trevino Place and Nicklaus Circle and Palmer Drive — past the other low-slung houses and the droopy date palms and the towering slash pines, lock-step with each other. There was no advantage as the brothers hung a left onto Casey Road, then one final left a tenth of a mile down onto Old Saybrook.

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Their father, Jim, spotted the two in the distance. All of a sudden, Jay started getting closer. His stride lengthened. His brother looked helpless.

“Right about the halfway point, I had about a 20-yard lead, and then 40, and then I just killed him!” Jay says, the adrenaline still alive in his voice, the excitement lifting him out of his seat.

Jay danced in the driveway, his arms in the air like Rocky Balboa, his laughter between breaths delivering a mix of contentment and comeuppance.

“It crushed me,” Jon says, a tinge of humility in his voice three decades later. “The guy did nothing all summer, and the college quarterback who worked out twice, three times a day — I got beat like a drum.”

Jay has, for much of his life, lived in his older brother’s shadow — first as a football player, now as a football coach. Parallels were hastily drawn in January, when Jay was hired by the Washington Redskins to be their 29th coach, between his acceptance of such a job and the pedigree of his last name.

Yet Jay’s path has been considerably more unorthodox than his brother’s, almost to the extent that by endlessly tilling lower levels of football, he became the anti-Jon.

In the end, Jay’s hope is that he will be remembered for one trait — one that, ironically, would again link the two in the sport’s annals, one that Jon recognized on that humbling summer afternoon.

Jay wants to be a winner.

A football education

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